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Officiating bug spreads to game with Michigan

A week after Penn State felt it was on the short end of the officiating stick, which made a victory at Iowa more difficult, the tables were turned Saturday night in the Nittany Lions’ 28-21 win over Michigan.

At least if you consider Jim Harbaugh’s viewpoint.

The Wolverines were penalized eight times (to Penn State’s five), and there were a couple in particular that stuck in Harbaugh’s craw.

A questionable third-and-11 defensive holding call on Lavert Hill, who appeared to get tangled up with PSU receiver Daniel George, gave a struggling Lion offense a generous first down in the fourth quarter.

Penn State used the break to score — the Nits’ first touchdown in six possessions — when Sean Clifford hit KJ Hamler for a 53-yard touchdown, pushing the Lions up 28-14.

Harbaugh wondered aloud about the hold as well as the non-call on Pat Freiermuth that resulted in Penn State’s first touchdown.

“It will be interesting to compare some of the different scenarios in the game in terms of the calls,” he said. “Lavert’s holding penalty that led to a touchdown on third-and-11 versus couple of those there at the end. I thought some of our receivers were getting tackled there on the last couple plays of that drive.

“It will be interesting to see the lineman down field, the one they called on us that took away a touchdown compared to (Brad) Hopkins going for an interception and the guard knocking it away. There is a few. The offensive pass interference they called on us versus the offensive pass interference (on Freiermuth) that I thought should have been called on them on their first touchdown. As far as the calls and officiating goes, it will be interesting in comparing some of those.”

Some coaches, including James Franklin, don’t get into specifics about the officials.

Saturday night should help some Penn State fans realize they’re not alone in their frustration.

Nitpicking …

n Regardless of whether Ronnie Bell dropped the game-tying pass, Penn State’s defense has stood tall in the shadow of its own goal post this season. Witness the successful efforts against Pitt, Iowa and now Michigan. Micah Parsons on the difference in this year’s defense and last: “I’ve said it before this season that we’re going to be a completely different defense. We’re going to finish games this season and we made a big point this offseason of talking about finishing games.”

n Franklin considers time of possession an outdated statistic, but Michigan’s 37:45-22:15 edge is one reason the Lions didn’t have more second-half opportunities. They didn’t have the ball and when they did, they couldn’t keep it. Michigan ran 82 plays to the Lions’ 54. That weakened the PSU defense, which allowed 26 first downs.

n I was actually getting ready to suggest that the Lions work with someone other than Hamler as their primary kickoff return man and allow him to focus on receiving, spot rushes and punt returns. Then he exploded for a 100-yard kickoff return against Michigan to open the second half (that would have given Penn State a 28-7 lead) before it was called back for not one but two holding penalties. The Lions entered Saturday ranked 14th in the Big Ten in kickoff return yardage, and Hamler had looked tentative against Iowa.

n Michigan wasn’t able to take Hamler away, but typically the Wolverines and Ohio State have excellent cover corners. The Lions need another receiver, presumably Jahan Dotson, to take some pressure off Hamler. And we’re still waiting for Justin Shorter, a five-star recruit, to stay healthy long enough to make an impact.

n Wisconsin’s stunning loss to Illinois takes much luster off the Badgers’ visit to Columbus on Saturday and was not good for the Big Ten in that the West Division champion now might well have two losses.

n If Penn State goes 11-1 with a loss to Ohio State, its most logical bowl destination would likely be the Rose.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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